Egypt's Wafd Party invokes past glories in parliamentary bid

Passant Darwish , Monday 12 Oct 2015

Egypt's Wafd Party touts its long history in parliament as part of its bid in upcoming elections

Wafd leader El-Sayed El-Badawi (third from left) speaks during a press conference at the party headquarter (Photo: Al-Ahram)

"My success story wouldn't have been fulfilled if it weren't for the Wafd issuing the free education decree and building universities," a businessman says in a TV commercial for El-Wafd's 2015 parliamentary election campaign.

"Banks would have been working without supervision if it hadn't been for the Wafd, that built the Central Bank," a banker adds.

More of Wafd’s achievements were mentioned, all of which took place over half a century ago.

"All of this was established by the Wafd in just seven years when it was governing," a man concludes in the commercial, which was first aired in the Wafd's 2011 parliamentary campaign.

The liberal Wafd party formed the Egyptian government in the 1940s and early 1950s.

Current head of the Wafd Party El-Sayed El-Badawi promoted his party’s “100 years of history” in a televised interview last Wednesday, but said that for the meantime “Wafd will take a lot of steps backwards to uphold national unity.”

Wafd, Arabic for ‘the delegation,’ started as a movement in 1919 against the British occupation. The party demanded to send a delegation to the Paris Peace Conference to declare Egypt's right to self-determination and separation from the British occupation.

The British occupation remained for a few decades longer but Wafd became a constant on Egypt’s political scene, sometimes winning the majority of the parliament and later forming the government prior to the 1952 coup.

At other times, Wafd was suppressed and forced to disband its ranks, which happened after 1952.

Today, the Wafd Party is one of the main political parties running in the upcoming parliamentary elections, slated to take place over two stages on 17-18 October and 1-2 December.

'Well-known by people'

However, Wafd's electoral campaign for its independent candidates pales in comparison to other political parties.

Political analyst Amr Hesham Rabie said that the party's campaigning "is extremely limited" forcing Wafd to "trail behind the Islamic current [parties] and the Free Egyptian Party."

While Yasser Hassan, head of Wafd's communication office, admits that Wafd is lacking in its campaigning, he points to the fact that other parties have "political money," a term by which he means financial support from businessmen who are trying to influence the political scene.

Wafd refuses this kind of funding, he says.

Hassan adds, however, that Wafd has the advantage that "it is well-known by people on the street."

"A single green Wafd banner on the street can be recognised by people even among 50 other banners," he added.

And it's not only about spending money, according to Hassan.

He said that in the 2011-2012 parliamentary elections a coalition of liberal political parties, the Egyptian Bloc, spent 18 times more than Hassan’s party did in campaigning, but Wafd still ended up winning more seats than the Bloc.

No Electoral Program

Without money to fund its members, Wafd is attempting to present something new in their parliamentary campaign.

“It’s the first time in the history of Egypt's parliamentary elections that a party doesn’t have an electoral program but a legislative package ready to be discussed in the parliament,” Hassan stated.

The draft legislative package is comprised of political, economic, and social laws, he added.

The laws include a possible draft revision of the controversial civil service law, which aims to reform Egypt’s administrative apparatus while streamlining hiring practices and wage-structures in governmental institutions.

The law was met with protests coordinated by the affected syndicates.

The legislation also includes a law limiting the number of ministries-now standing at 33– to less than 20, in addition to copyright laws and ones aimed at reforming the judiciary and social security.

A sacrifice 'For the Love of Egypt'

The Wafd Party is competing for 264 independent seats in the upcoming parliamentary elections, 50 percent of the independent seats.

It also has eight members on the "For the Love of Egypt" electoral list, which is composed of 120 candidates from a number of political parties as well as independents.

The "For the Love of Egypt" list is said to be supported by President Abdel-Fattah El-Sisi.

It is no secret that the president wanted the political parties to join one electoral bloc. He said in a meeting earlier this year that the move would keep remnants of the banned Muslim Brotherhood away from parliament.

However, El-Badawi, a businessman and media tycoon, stated that having only eight members on the list is an "insult and a dwarfing of Wafd."

Rabie told Ahram Online that, "if we're talking in terms of history, Wafd should have had its own electoral list, but it was pressured to join a unified list along with the other political parties."

Meanwhile, Hassan said that, “a number of Wafd members oppose the list," and that they are well aware of the criticism of the list that comes from the streets and the media.

However, Hassan told Ahram Online that the party joined the list as a "sacrifice for the sake of Egypt."

Hassan added that the party is more focused on the independent seats.

Wafd prospects

Despite being Egypt's oldest political party, and a constant in the parliament before the 1952 coup against the king, Wafd hasn't had significant representation in the previous two parliaments.

In the 2010 parliamentary elections, Wafd announced that it would boycott the polls after fraud in the first election stage. However, six Wafd members won seats in the parliament despite the boycott.

In the 2011-2012 parliament following the 25 January uprising, the Wafd party ranked third in the parliament with 38 out of 508 seats.

The majority of the parliament was Islamists led by the now-banned Muslim Brotherhood and followed by the ultraconservative Nour Party, which is also participating in the 2015 elections.

Prospects are not high for Wafd in the 2015-2016 parliament either.

Political analyst Rabie predicted that, while there will not be a majority party in the parliament, Wafd will still rank third, behind the Free Egyptians and Islamist parties.

Polls overshadow Wafd's internal dispute

Wafd Party’s parliamentary campaign chose to remain tight-lipped regarding an internal dispute that attempted to thwart current party head, El-Badawi a few months ago.

In May, around 1,200 Wafd members announced that they were withdrawing confidence from Chairman El-Badawi, who they said had absolute authority in all party decisions.

The dissident members include prominent Wafd figures as Fouad Badrawy, who was the general secretary of the party before being sacked.

El-Badawi promptly retaliated by sacking seven members, who later formed the Reform Current, with the aim of removing El-Badawi from power.

All attempts at reconciliation between El-Badawi and the seven members, including a meeting held by President Abdel-Fattah El-Sisi, reached a dead end.

The Reform Current is currently in legal battles with the aim of holding elections to choose a new head and reinstate all members sacked by El-Badawi since he became chairman in 2010.

At least 18 members of the Reform Current are running in the parliamentary elections as independents.

On any possible reconciliation with the Reform Current, Hassan said the "so-called Reform Current is not on Wafd’s agenda at the moment."

“We’re busy with the elections,” he said, adding that “any talk of the Reform Current is a waste of Egyptians’ time, because Egypt has so much going on right now that is more important than seven angry [people] in a political party.” 

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